So Much for Denver being a Run Team – Peyton Manning takes over

manning-vs-chiefs-1With a run-obsessed coach in Gary Kubiak, and Peyton Manning now 39, this was supposed to be the year that the Denver Broncos transitioned to a ground team. After all, Kubiak is the same guy who’s coached 10 teams to top-5 rushing totals in a season, and he also engineered incredible seasons for Terrell Davis, Arian Foster and Justin Forsett. But following a first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs last Thursday where Denver failed to get on the board, the playbook went out the window and Manning took over.

The future Hall of Famer finished 26-for-45 passing with 256 yards and 3 touchdowns. Most importantly, he guided the team 80 yards down the field in the fourth quarter to tie the game with a hostile crowd chanting against their every move. So much for this being the year that Manning handed the ball off to C.J. Anderson for four quarters – No. 18 is still in firm command of this team.

This 80-yard drive would pave the way for Bradley Roby’s game-winning, 21-yard fumble return. But even after Roby’s incredible play, one couldn’t help but think about the reason why they were in this position in the first place.

“Peyton was so calm in the huddle on that drive,” Anderson said about the game-tying march. “You got to see what he’s still got.”

manning-vs-chiefsAt this point in his career, Manning is not going to set any personal single-season records. He’s getting older, his arm is a little less strong, and this isn’t the best offensive line that he’s ever played behind. However, you don’t just cast away 18 years of NFL experience from a guy who’s done nothing but win in his NFL career. When the game is on the line, Manning will be the one making the tough decisions.

Once Kansas City jumped out to a 14-0 lead, the gunslinger scrapped Kubiak’s short routes and runs in favor of vertical passing routes. This allowed Denver to close the first half with two touchdown drives to knot the score up at 14-14 going into the half.

The second half was again a battle, but one that Manning could keep up with, even against a vaunted KC defense that was playing at home. On a night where Ronnie Hillman and Anderson could only muster 61 yards on 21 carries, their signal caller had to bail the team out in what should be an all-important division game.

Who knows how far Denver will go this season with their new-look team. But if their 2-0 start is any indication, they certainly can’t be counted out of the Super Bowl picture. This is especially the case when considering that Manning has proved that he still has it.

2013 Black Monday: 5 NFL Coaches fired

jim-schwartz-lionsEvery year, the Monday following Week 17 of the NFL regular season is a testy time for losing coaches. This year’s Black Monday was especially brutal as five coaches got the ax. Here’s a look at the unlucky coaches who were fired, along with a few that are still awaiting word on their futures.

Firings

Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns – The Browns didn’t give Chudzinski much time to turn things around in Cleveland. They fired their rookie head coach immediately after his first season ended with a 4-12 record. What was particularly disheartening is that the Browns lost 10 out of their last 11 games. Cleveland ownership voiced disappointment over a “lack of accountability and effort” from Chud’s players. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ name has come up in the rumors involving the coaching search.

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings – The writing has been on the wall for Frazier for quite some time after the team’s slow start and a disastrous quarterback carousel. Minnesota ownership was hoping that the Vikings would take another step forward after making the playoffs last year; instead, they finished just 5-10-1. Team officials have been working on potential replacements for weeks, and they’ve asked about Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

greg-schiano-hot-seatGreg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tampa Bay is a team that was built to win this season. Instead, they suffered through a 4-12 season under second-year coach Greg Schiano. Management was concerned that players were no longer responding to Schiano’s hard-driving style, and the Josh Freeman quarterback controversy didn’t help matters. General manager Mark Dominik was also a casualty on Black Monday.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions – No team collapsed as badly as the Lions did down the stretch. After climbing to the top of the NFC North with a 6-3 record, they lost 6 out of their last 7 contests and missed the postseason. Management had already made the decision on Schwartz’s job when the team was eliminated from postseason contention last week.

mike-shanahan-hot-seatMike Shanahan, Washington Redskins – The drama regarding Mike Shanahan has finally come to an end with his Monday morning firing. He was fired after a 3-13 record, which was the second worst in the league. It was no secret that Shanahan clashed with management over what he perceived as their babying of quarterback Robert Griffin III. The matter came to a conclusion when RG III was benched for the final three games to “prevent any injuries.”

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans – Kubiak wasn’t a Black Monday firing, but rather axed on December 12th after the team had lost 11 straight games. Team management also didn’t like the way that Kubiak handled the quarterback situation between Matt Schaub and Case Keenum. Add in the fact that many expected Houston to contend for a Super Bowl and it’s pretty clear why Kubiak was fired. Several candidates have already been interviewed, including former Bears coach Lovie Smith, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien and Texans interim coach Wade Phillips.

Still Uncertain

dennis-allen-oaklandDennis Allen, Oakland Raiders – Before Oakland played the Denver Broncos, it was generally thought that both coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie would be safe. However, there are no guarantees following a 4-12 season, which ended with an embarrassing 34-14 loss to Denver, where the Broncos were leading 31-0 at halftime.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys – For the second year in a row, Garrett’s team lost the NFC East on the final game of the season. Owner Jerry Jones appears likely to keep Garrett, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s job could be in serious jeopardy.

Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins – Miami was in the driver’s seat of their playoff destiny, but finished with losses to two subpar teams (Buffalo, NY Jets) to close out the season. Owner Stephen Ross didn’t exactly give any vote of confidence after saying that he has “a lot to think about” with regard to Philbin and GM Jeff Ireland’s jobs.

mike-munchak-tennesseeMike Munchak, Tennessee Titans – It was another up-and-down season for the Titans, with them finishing 7-9 and missing the playoffs. And the hard-running, clock-management style that Tennessee is trying to push faltered in the middle of the season. Star running back Chris Johnson won’t be back. Is the same true of Munchack?

Job Security

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants – Two years removed from a Super Bowl, nobody expected Tom Coughlin to be coaching for his job. However, a dismal 0-6 start got the press talking about Coughlin’s future with the organization. But early word is that, following a 7-3 finish to the season, it’s up to Coughlin to decide if he wants to stay with the team.

Rex Ryan, New York Jets – Many believe that Ryan did a commendable job with the Jets since this season was projected to be a rebuilding effort. However, Ryan coached them to a .500 record and ended the year on a positive note with two straight wins.

NFL Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2013: Gary Kubiak, Greg Schiano and More

greg-schiano-hot-seatAs is the case every year, certain NFL teams disappoint their owners and fans, which always puts the head coaches on the hot seat. In 2013, some of the more disappointing teams have been the Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins.

Of course, there are other teams that weren’t expected to do well this season, yet still need a good year to save their coach’s job. The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders fall into this category because fans and ownership are growing impatient with the lack of recent postseason bids. Now let’s take a look at how each of these team’s coaches are doing in their bid to stay employed.

Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay, 3-8) – Hot Seat Temperature: Very High – It was all but a forgone conclusion that Greg Schaino was going to be fired after the Josh Freeman mess and, more importantly, an 0-8 start. However, the Bucs have provided a glimmer of hope after winning three straight games. Make no mistake about it, Schiano is still in big danger of being fired. But if he can inspire his team over the remainder of the NFL season, maybe he stands a chance of being saved.

Gary Kubiak (Houston, 2-9) – Hot Seat Temperature: High – By most admissions, Gary Kubiak is a pretty good coach, which is why he’s been in Houston for eight seasons. But his team was built to win a title this year, and now they’re arguably the NFL’s worst. Of course, this isn’t all Kubiak’s fault since injuries and other problems have plagued his team. Unfortunately, few people are showing him sympathy, even after his mini-stroke a few weeks ago. His handling of the Case Keenum/Matt Schaub quarterback situation hasn’t helped matters.

leslie-frazier-hot-seatLeslie Frazier (Minnesota, 2-8-1) – Hot Seat Temperature: High – Most people realize that the Vikings overachieved when they made the playoffs last year, thanks to an absolutely torrid second half by Adrian Peterson. Even still, everybody expected them to at least be competitive heading into 2013. Much like Kubiak, Frazier has dealt with a quarterback debacle, having started Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Freeman at various points of the season.

Dennis Allen (Oakland, 4-7) – Hot Seat Temperature: High – An Oakland coach on the hot seat…imagine that. Allen has an 8-20 record over his season and a half with the Raiders, which isn’t going to turn any heads. This team received a boost from Terrelle Pryor’s excellent play early on. However, a sprained knee hampered Pryor and put a damper on the Raiders’ season. They’re still not completely out of the AFC Wild Card race, though, meaning Allen will need some wins to show he definitely deserves this job.

mike-shanahan-hot-seatMike Shanahan (Washington, 3-8) – Hot Seat Temperature: Medium – Shanahan didn’t exactly inherit the most talent in 2010, but still, he molded this team into a postseason club three years later. Now, with Robert Griffin III on the roster, Shanahan is expected to keep winning, which hasn’t happened in 2013. Players like DeAngelo Hall have expressed a desire for Shanahan to return next season. But whether this happens or not is mainly up to Daniel Snyder, who seems to really love Griffin’s talent above anything else.

Rex Ryan (New York Jets, 5-6) – Hot Seat Temperature: Medium – If there’s one team that’s exceeded expectations on this list, it is definitely New York. This was merely supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Jets, where Geno Smith was introduced as the franchise quarterback. However, things have flip-flopped, with the 5-6 Jets tied for the sixth AFC Wild Card spot, and Smith looking like a third-stringer. If Smith doesn’t play better soon, or if Ryan doesn’t bench him soon, the latter could be looking for another job.